The California Teachers Association is celebrating the 28th annual national Teacher Appreciation Week with a bigger milestone – the 150th anniversary of its founding.
It was May 1863 when then state superintendent of schools John Swett, a passionate advocate for free public education, held a state teachers’ convention and established the California Educational Society with fewer than 100 members, all men. It became the California Teachers Association in 1875. California itself had just become a teenager, marking its 13th year as a state, and the Civil War was two years from ending.
Today, the CTA has 325,000 members and is one of the strongest advocacy groups in the state, having spent tens of millions of dollars on the 2012 election.
To mark its sesquicentennial, the CTA is launching “California’s Teachers: Honoring our past. Guiding the future,” a huge media campaign promoting its accomplishments and charting out its long-term strategy and goals.
“As we celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week, we should reflect on the fact that teachers are often the greatest champions our children have,” State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, whose 2010 election campaign received more than $3.3 million in CTA contributions through an independent expenditure committee, said in a written statement. “Their care and skill inspire our students, motivate them to do their best, and prepare them for the world beyond the classroom.
For more on the CTA’s history, see John Swett and the politics of public education in frontier California
CTA 150th anniversary news conference
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el 10 years ago10 years ago
Something that I think is really important at the local unit level is that the right person be selected for union leadership. If you want outreach to the community, the union leader has to be someone with excellent people skills, someone who clearly cares about all kids, someone who is perceived to be looking out for the long term of the students, the school, and the community... and not just the only person who volunteered. … Read More
Something that I think is really important at the local unit level is that the right person be selected for union leadership. If you want outreach to the community, the union leader has to be someone with excellent people skills, someone who clearly cares about all kids, someone who is perceived to be looking out for the long term of the students, the school, and the community… and not just the only person who volunteered. This sometimes means that someone who would rather be doing something else sometimes has to step up, and that it’s important for the electorate to recruit other candidates if they don’t like the ones that offer themselves up. In this, it’s not unlike every other office in our democracy. 🙂
CTA does seem to have some good trainings and initiatives for the people who are selected, and I hope they continue to make that a priority.
navigio 10 years ago10 years ago
Sometimes I believe the best criteria for public office is whether the person does not want to be there. 🙂
Paul 10 years ago10 years ago
Navigio, I enjoyed reading your post. The CTA can congratulate itself all it wants, but in recent decades, teachers' unions have been ineffective in improving the lot of public school teachers. My favorite comparison involves registered nurses, whose unions have secured dramatic wage increases, especially in California. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says that the median income for nurses is well over $10,000 higher than for teachers. Nurses need 2-4 years of postsecondary education, teachers 5, … Read More
Navigio, I enjoyed reading your post.
The CTA can congratulate itself all it wants, but in recent decades, teachers’ unions have been ineffective in improving the lot of public school teachers. My favorite comparison involves registered nurses, whose unions have secured dramatic wage increases, especially in California. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says that the median income for nurses is well over $10,000 higher than for teachers. Nurses need 2-4 years of postsecondary education, teachers 5, both professions were historically dominated by women (who of course faced wage discrimination), and whereas nurses have a small and diffuse constituency (not everyone gets sick), teachers have a broad one (most adults were taught by public school teachers, and even if we don’t have children of our own, chances are that we have school-age relatives).
In fairness, while nurses’ unions have been able to angle for a share of 10% annual increases in unit revenue (health insurance premiums and doctor/hospital fees), plus increases in volume due to an aging population, it may be that teachers’ unions have accomplished something by not letting teachers’ economic status decline further than it has.
It’s a shame that rank-and-file California teachers have simply accepted increases in workload (class size, proportion of special education students, proportion of English Learners, and mandates for these two categories), stagnant or declining wages (furlough days, 0% increases, and rising employee health insurance contributions), and state-imposed reductions in pension benefits (for those entering as of January, 2013).
The solution might lie in quitting/finding work in different professions, rather than in trying to organize better. Nothing will change as long as legions of “do-gooders” are willing to do more work for less pay. Real professionals don’t work for free, and this is why no one takes teachers seriously.
CarolineSF 10 years ago10 years ago
Great post, Navigio. Disclosure that my husband is a member of United Educators of San Francisco. I think teachers and education overall would benefit if teachers' union locals would routinely get involved in outreach to parents/guardians. When the popular movie "Race to Nowhere" was hot, the Oakland teachers' union sponsored a screening for the community. That kind of service to parents would be beneficial to all, and so would information shared with families about unions, teachers and … Read More
Great post, Navigio.
Disclosure that my husband is a member of United Educators of San Francisco.
I think teachers and education overall would benefit if teachers’ union locals would routinely get involved in outreach to parents/guardians. When the popular movie “Race to Nowhere” was hot, the Oakland teachers’ union sponsored a screening for the community. That kind of service to parents would be beneficial to all, and so would information shared with families about unions, teachers and more — and generally more visibility in school and district communities.
There also needs to be an effective damage-control operation in response to the constant assault on teachers and teachers’ unions. I think the teachers’ unions at all levels have been very reticent to engage in that.
navigio 10 years ago10 years ago
This should be an interesting thread... assuming anyone notices it.. So I think there is some potentially critical information here. Not only is CTA working on a strategy, but they've outlined the initial focus of its direction. I think its not only important to look at their mission statement, but how the specifics of this strategy will be directed. First off, the mission statement: "The California Teachers Association exists to protect and promote the well-being of its members; … Read More
This should be an interesting thread… assuming anyone notices it..
So I think there is some potentially critical information here. Not only is CTA working on a strategy, but they’ve outlined the initial focus of its direction.
I think its not only important to look at their mission statement, but how the specifics of this strategy will be directed.
First off, the mission statement: “The California Teachers Association exists to protect and promote the well-being of its members; to improve the conditions of teaching and learning; to advance the cause of free, universal, and quality public education; to ensure that the human dignity and civil rights of all children and youth are protected; and to secure a more just, equitable, and democratic society.”
I would like to see the CTA focus more on supporting its members by ensuring that local entities act in a consistent manner when it comes to representing teachers. I have seen great disparity in the kind of ‘support’ a local union offers to its teacher members, sometimes to the extent that the union is not seen as an ally by even teachers (except maybe in contract negotiations, but sometimes even not then). That contributes to a negative work environment and lowered justification for the role of the union.
I would also like to see more specific statements on advancing the cause of free, universal and especially quality public education. For example, it is not clear what CTA believes ‘quality’ means and how it would modify current policy to achieve that. Nor whether it would monitor these things and/or contribute to discussions on how to fund them (assuming they would cost more).
Then the 8 bullet points regarding strategy (listed here for ease of discussion):
• Building an organizing culture – Building an organizing culture that engages CTA members at every level of our union.
• Leadership and leadership development – Supporting the recruitment, retention and development of effective, responsible and accountable leaders at every level of our union
• Community engagement and coalition building – Building effective and authentic partnerships with parents, other unions and community organizations
• Transforming our profession – Transforming our profession for teachers and other educators by supporting the highest standards of quality in student-centered education
• Social justice, equity and diversity – Standing up for social justice, equity and diversity inside our organization and in the greater community
• Structure and governance – Aligning CTA staffing and governance structures with these strategic objectives and assuring effective representational democracy in CTA
• Advocacy on education reform – Changing the education reform discourse to being proactive and student-centered on education policy issues
• Organizing unrepresented education workers – Engaging in new member organizing, including charter school workers, Education Support Professionals and college faculty, to advance our goal of quality education for all
I think the 3rd item is quite important. In my experience, the relationship between unions and parents is at best acrimonious. And I am not sure how to resolve that (would be interesting to hear CTA’s proposals). I’ve been struck by the fact that most public school parents are relatively ‘pro-union’, when it comes to valuing the importance of teachers, yet are often unwilling to accept some of the tradeoffs that exist at the local level when so-called union rules impact the quality of the school environment. To be fair, this, in my experience, has rarely been something that impacted teachers, rather classified staff. Regardless, I have seen one example of a teacher who was kind of sloughed around from school to school because no one wanted her, yet there was no willingness or capacity at the administration level to bother with the process to remove her. Even worse, I have seen numerous classified staff positions who were staffed by people who simply dont care and for part of the year, simply never showed up to work. Again, the incompetence that exists at the administration level (both local and central) makes it possible for these people to do this, and worse, begs the question on the part of parents, ‘who exactly is benefiting from the resources we are trying to direct toward kids?’ In some sense, it’s even worse (?) if these positions are funded with categorical money.
Now dont get me wrong, these are clearly anecdotes. But they still should not exist to the even minimal extent that they do. Furthermore, I know one of the responses to the question of protections will be why assume that public sector’s are too much, rather than that private sector’s are too little. In fact, I agree with that. However, the fact is that the norm currently is the private sector, so it will be impossible to justify these positions on those grounds. Perhaps what the CTA (and sister unions) can do to change this would be to work to extend these protections to the private sector (is that the point of the last bullet?)? And while its true that the problems created by these situations exist more because of incompetent administrators and less because of ‘union rules or protections’, that fact unfortunately does not change that there are incompetent administrators. And so the end result is that kids will bear the brunt of ‘reality’. Whereas, the question should really be how to fix it. CTA (and other unions) need to realize that the public will generally see two ways to fix those situations (to the extent they exist): one is to enforce competence at the administrative level (difficult to impossible at the classified level due to privacy laws). The second is to do away with unions. I personally dont believe unions understand this, and it will be to their eventual detriment (perhaps even demise). Actually, there is a third way: run from the problem. Charter enrollment is still on an exponential growth curve. And I believe the perception of union ‘barriers’ is one reason. This may be an opportunity for different unions to work for a better relationship between their constituencies ‘in the field’. Right now, it seems pretty much luck of the draw whether one ends up experiencing this or not.
And in case anyone thinks I am union bashing (I’m not), please see the 4th bullet point, which seems to clearly recognize that there needs to be more of a focus by CTA (educational unions in general) on creating a system that is ‘student-centered’. I admit it will be difficult, because now is probably the time at which unions are most under pressure (at least more than in any recent time I can remember).
There has been a lot of discussion recently on whether unions should be involved in somehow policing or maintaing the quality aspect of education. I think the arguments against it are valid (we pay other people to do this, and unions have no control over hiring and firing or PD or certification, and perhaps they shouldnt). However, there does seem to be some consensus that aligning quality goals with union goals would be a good idea (specifically probably getting a more sudent/quality focus into union goals). One of the Pauls had some great comments on this a few weeks or months back. Regardless, it would be great to see specifics of the CTA proposal on how they expect/hope to achieve this.
Most of the rest of this list is standard ‘fluff’ 😉 .. except, of course, for the most important one of all and that is the 2nd to last bullet on changing the course of education reform. I have to admit, I was taken aback to see this goal specified, but am quite happy that it is there. So far, it seems the existing educational hierarchy has been mostly silent on reform, and to the extent they speak out, it is from a mostly defensive posture. There are some vocal exceptions at the national level, but they still feel defensive.
There appears to have been a mostly concerted effort to discredit public education and teachers on the part of ‘the reformers’ (for lack of a more cohesive term). Most attribute the start of this as the publishing of ‘A Nation at Risk’; still highly cited, in spite of all its flaws. Since then we have had scores of reform and accountability efforts, which seem to have done nothing but further segregation, stress, cheating and the manufacturing of failure (I cant say how many times Manuel has mentioned the modification of performance bands such that 100% proficiency is a statistical impossibility (irrespective of the logistical one), yet no one bothers to ever respond to him. Is it because he’s wrong? Or because we don’t care?–Manuel, I think you should do a guest column here on this issue, including links and data. I’ll help if you need it.). It also seems somewhat absurd to me to assume that as the ‘input’ to the system changes, that somehow the impact that the system has must somehow also change, but in a completely independent manner. In short, in my opinion, the reform ‘discussion’ is in fact cherry-picking of data to achieve a certain political end (usually to the detriment of teachers and/or public education). That needs to change.
If there is anything that hurts teachers, it is that they care more about their kids than they do about politics and what other people think they know. But organizations like CTA exist, at one level, to play that role so individual teachers don’t have to. I think it is a mistake to try to ‘defend’ public education on the grounds of the reformers. Instead, I’d like to see CTA tell the real story of public education. In some sense, this would be an alternative story of reform (since in reality, things are changing in this world anyway, and the education system must also adapt). There are a lot of notions out there about radically changing what it means to be educated and how to get there. The current approach and its evolution must be justified (assuming they are justifiable–I think they are, but that is my own bias) otherwise they will be replaced by more knee-jerk policies that may end up being more detrimental than anything we have now.
A couple years ago I felt teachers unions were at an existential crossroads. I still think that, though I’d add the other public sector unions to it. Not because they are not serving their members’ needs, rather because they have failed–in at least the public perception eye–to serve society’s needs. Remember, it does not matter in politics what is true, it matters what people think is true. I hope that CTAs effort can work to make those more the same thing.